Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fired for Making a Flip Comment

I received the following question via email:

I was recently (1/20/14) fired from my job due to a post I made on a friend's Facebook page. I loved my job of eight years and the shock of losing it is still with me. I tried to explain to my employer that my comment was not an attack but only a flip comment and I did not mention the employer name. I have had two other job terminations in my past 30 year work history (1988--7 years of employment and 2005--4 months of employment). I am struggling how to explain the three terminations. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you in advance.


I am so sorry to hear you were fired from your job.  I know it is a tough lesson to learn, but you have to be careful with what you post on Facebook.  I've written about this before see: being terminated for a Facebook post.

The best advice I can give you is to explain honestly why you were fired. Be prepared to talk about what you've learned from these experiences and how you've grown and changed.

Here are a few suggestions:

Take down your Facebook account. 
If you can't bring yourself to do that, at least remove all of your posts and unfriend everyone who is not in your immediate circles.  Do not post on anyone's page including your own until after you have a new job. Then be very careful what you write and who you friend. 

Practice:
You will most likely be asked to explain what you wrote on that Facebook page.  Be honest and practice what you are going to say. Here is an example:

I wrote that my boss was a jerk. I didn't really mean that, I was anxious about an upcoming deadline and just letting off steam. I didn't realize what I wrote would be read by others.  I've since taken down my Facebook account and have begun working on more positive forms of stress reduction. 

Do not say even one bad thing about your former company or anyone who worked there:
I once interviewed a woman who had been down-sized or fired six times.  While asking about her experience, I decided by job number three I would never hire her (really it was after job one and by job three I was looking for a way to end the interview).  Every manager was incompetent and all of the companies were horrible places to work.  No they weren't, she was difficult.  Instead, discuss what you enjoyed about your former companies and jobs.

I'd consider leaving job #2 off your resume:
You only worked there 4 months.  If it isn't absolutely necessary, I would consider removing this job from your resume.  Though, this one should be an easy explanation; most likely it was a bad fit.

Explore the reasons behind your firings:
Are there patterns?  Usually if a person is fired multiple times there is a common element.  Review previous performance reviews.  Do you need to update your skills or do your soft skills need improvement? Take personal development classes or become a member of Toastmasters.  Talk about your new skills and what you are learning in your interviews.

See a therapist:
I know someone who grew up in an extremely abusive household.  He now has a job managing huge global projects and a staff.  In his first performance review he was told his staff found him difficult to work for.  A therapist has since helped him realize criticizing his employees today then acting like nothing has happened tomorrow (behavior he grew up with) was not acceptable. His therapist also told him if he didn't change he would lose his job. 

Tap into your network:
You need your network more than ever before.  Contact former co-workers and managers who no longer work at your former companies. You need someone who can vouch for you.  The employee fired for having a bad attitude in this post found employment at a former manager's new place of employment.   The pregnant employee fired for not passing the insurance exam in this post was rehired for a job she held in college.  She is back to where she started, underemployed and not using her degree, but she is employed.

Play up your positive work experiences:
I am assuming you've held other positions in addition to the three jobs you mention. Be sure to talk up those experiences.

Seek out temporary work:
I'm not sure how many temporary positions there are out there, but this used to be a great way to get into a company without having to interview.  The employer sees how great your work is and offers you a job. Apply at every temporary employment agency in your area.

Good luck to you.  The job market is still challenging and three firings are going to make it more difficult. Don't be afraid to volunteer or to work at an interim job until you find something in your field.

Do any of you have additional suggestions to help this reader explain her terminations?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Esthetician Interview - Q & A with The Esthetic Goddess

After reading Susie of The Esthetic Goddess's post What I Have Learned (So Far) As An Esthetician, I knew I had to interview her about her career.  In the following interview Susie provides an insider’s look into her career as an esthetician while offering advice and tips to help the consumer. Enjoy:  

I have been a licensed esthetician for over 10 years in a wonderful medical spa. When I go to work every day I get to do facials, chemical peels, micro current, skin tightening treatments, and micro dermabrasion. My job is not only fun but rewarding and I love sharing what I have learned in the esthetics field!

What is an esthetician?
An esthetician is someone who works on the skin. This can include facials, waxing, chemical peels, body wraps, make-up and lasers. Estheticians cannot diagnose or treat skin diseases. If I see something suspicious on a client I recommend them to my favorite dermatologist who I know will take good care of them.

What motivated you to become an esthetician?
I started getting chemical peels at the age of 28. I thought it was so cool that just by applying something to someone’s skin you could change their skin tone and texture for the better.

When I was 37 my 17 year marriage came to an end. I had always been a stay at home mom and need a career. I had such a love for esthetics that it was a meant to be for me! We have no esthetic schooling around me so I drove 180 miles a day for school. I was extremely determined to make it happen and it was extremely worth it in the end!

What kind of experience and preparation helped you the most?
I feel like I got an exceptionally education from my esthetics teacher. She was a tough teacher. At first she didn’t even like me. (Hello?! I’m really lovable!) She gave me the hardest clients to work on and I was determined (There’s that word again. It describes me well!) To not let her break me. By the time I graduated her heart softened. She’d seen me working hard and exceeding education wise. She adored me by the end and I her! I owe so much to her. I felt very well prepared when I graduated.

In Illinois where I live Estheticians are required to have 750 hours of schooling. Once you graduate you have to get a state license by passing a written exam. After passing you can go on to more advanced training since you only learn basics in school. Every two years you need to complete 10 hours of continuing educating. This is for Illinois. All states have different requirements for estheticians.

What do you like best about your work?
Helping clients gain confidence! When a client comes to me with sun damage, acne, wrinkles, or whatever the skin problem is. I not only will help treat their skin but teach them what they need to be doing at home to maintain their skin in between the time till I see them again for another treatment. My goal is to always get my client skin looking great without make up.

What is your biggest headache?
Clients who think everything can be corrected in one treatment. It took a long time for their skin to get to the condition it is so it will take time to get it in good shape. Sometimes it can take several months. If you want your complexion looking beautiful for a wedding, reunion, etc. then start working on it a year before the special day.

What are the important personal qualities or abilities necessary for a person to be a successful esthetician?
Patience is a biggie! Not just treatment wise but you must have patience with the client themselves. For many of them they have never been taught to use the proper skin care. Often times I will baby step them into using the correct skin care. Starting with a good cleanser and working from there. This way they will not be overwhelmed with a lot of products at once.

I also think you must always be professional. I have a ton of fun with my clients but I would never bad mouth my completion. Even if a client is telling me of a bad experience they had with them.

Always do your job with integrity. Don’t sell a client a product or treatment you know will not work for them.

For someone who is considering this field, what would be you advice?
Find what you love in this field and specialize in it and never ever stop learning!

What do you wish you would have known before entering this field?
I can honestly say I have no surprises when I enter this field of work. I went into it with my eyes wide open and have never regretted it for a second!

How much can an esthetician expect to earn?
As a licensed esthetician you can make anywhere from $20,000-$50,000. It will all depend on experience and were you are working as well as what field you’re in. Working in a medical spa will pay more than working in a in a hair salon. You can also work from your own home or become a make-up artist. Salary will also depend on geo graphics. Do you live in a small town or big city? There are so many different variables.

Are there any scams or pitfalls to watch out for (phony opportunities, uncomfortable or scary situations, etc.)?
Oh there’s a ton of skin care out there that doesn’t really work. That’s why I will try out products for 3 months when trying a new product line. You cannot expect skin care to change your skin in 2 weeks and if they advertise that I would be very leery of that company. You also have to be careful of salesman selling machines. Lasers, skin tightening, microderm machines or any machine really. They all have limitations but sales people will say anything sometimes to make a sale. Not all sales people of course but they better have clinical studies to back up what they are claiming.

You mention on your blog that this is an ever changing field, what is the biggest change you’ve seen over the years?
There are definitely more machines then ever out now. So many different types of lasers and you can treat everything from sun damage to sagging skin to wrinkles with them. This is why it’s so important to stay on your toes. You have to figure out what really works and how well it will work for your clients.

I am a 51-year old woman with extremely oily yet sensitive skin. I recently noticed fine lines on my forehead and in the corner of my eyes. I have a drawer full of free samples of over-the-counter anti-aging products which I never remember to use. When I do remember, I either end up with a rash or don’t see any noticeable difference. If I were to visit your salon what would you recommend for my skin?
First and foremost we would sit down and discuss everything you are using on your skin and figure out what you should be using. Many times client believe there skin to be sensitive when it truly is not. It may have to do with two products they are using that are interacting with each other or it is an anti-aging ingredient, like retinol or glycolic acid, which when you first start using causes your skin to get red, itchy, or flaky. When used correctly, your skin will get acclimated to the products and all that will stop. After that we would discuss some of the treatments I can do on you to help address these issues. Like a chemical peel to help with fine lines and your oily skin. You may also be a candidate for the Venus Freeze treatment which helps tighten the skin. However I think your best bet is Botox to erase those wrinkles. Botox is a muscle relaxer. It’s perfect for forehead lines and crow’s-feet. I have been getting Botox done for over 20 years and think its da bomb!!

Also, I know a woman who had a skin treatment to remove acne scars from her chin at a prestige skin-salon. She ended up with second degree burns on her face and a settlement of $3,000 to pay her medical expenses. I’m not sure what happened; if a mistake was made with the procedure or if she didn’t understand the potential side-effects. What questions should consumers ask or potential problems should we be aware of before choosing a skin-treatment product or procedure?     
This really is dependent on the type of treatment. I think the biggest thing for the client would be to know how often they are preforming this procedure. What kind of training was involved and what is the reputation of the facility they are planning on going to.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about yourself, skin care or your career?
If anyone is think of going into esthetics it is an incredible rewarding field and I feel blessed every day to not only have a wonderful clientele but to work in a medical spa with the a fantastic group of people ever!

Where can we find you?
If anyone has any concern about their skin I am always happy to help. I can be found at http://www.estheticgoddess.com.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Savvy Reader Book Club Selection for Financial Literacy Month

In honor of Financial Literacy Month, I am selecting Helaine Olen’s book Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industryfor The Savvy Reader Book Club’s April/May selection.

National Financial Literacy Month is recognized in the United States in April in an effort to highlight the importance of financial literacy and teach Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits.

Why Pound Foolish?
Journalist and former financial columnist Helaine Olen has written a book exposing the myths of popular financial advice promoted by Suze Orman, David Bach and others. Here are some of her claims:  

Small pleasures can bankrupt you:
Gurus popular­ized the idea that cutting out lattes and other small expenditures could make us millionaires. But reduc­ing our caffeine consumption will not offset our biggest expenses: housing, education, health care, and retirement.

Disciplined investing will make you rich:
Gurus also love to show how steady investing can turn modest savings into a huge nest egg at retirement. But these calculations assume a healthy market and a lifetime without any setbacks—two conditions that have no connection to the real world.

Women need extra help managing money:
Product pushers often target women, whose alleged financial ignorance supposedly leaves them especially at risk. In reality, women and men are both terrible at han­dling finances.

Financial literacy classes will prevent future eco­nomic crises:
Experts like to claim mandatory sessions on personal finance in school will cure many of our money ills. Not only is there little evidence this is true, the entire movement is largely funded and promoted by the financial services sector.*

In case you are not familiar, The Savvy Reader Book Club is an online nonfiction book club created for the serious reader. I select a nonfiction book early in the month, and then host discussion posts covering my selection throughout the month. There's no signing up just read the book and stop back in to participate in the discussions at your leisure.

*I selected this book because I think it could lead to several interesting discussions. I plan to write discussion posts in both April and May.

Other book recommendations for financial literacy month:
If you are looking for a book to understand personal finance Helaine Olen recommends Personal Finance For Dummies. She describes this book as one of the most, informative, basic and unintimidating books on the subject she's read, and one that appeals to all ages and both sexes.

For a great list of personal finance books see:
Toby Bowers list of 10 Best Finance Books on Badcredit.org.
(Note: Popular authors such as David Bach, Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki and Suse Orman whose advice is disputed in Pound Foolish are not included on this list.)

Personal finance books I previously covered on this blog:
Susan L. Hirshman's Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?: A Woman's Guide to Finding Financial Empowerment and Success:
This book written for women is a comprehensive introduction to personal finance. Hirshman uses dieting strategies as metaphors for successful money management.  There is good information here, but I thought the dieting references were not necessary and annoying.

Mariko Chang's Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It:
In addition to or as a result of the wage gap, women also experience a wealth gap.  Read Chang's book to learn why and what can be done about it. 

Have you read Pound Foolish? If so, what were your thoughts? What book would you recommend reading for financial literacy month?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and The Million Dollar Diva*

Monday, March 31, 2014

Should You Hire a CPA To Do Your Taxes?

I was more amused than annoyed with Harry Campbell's statement, “I don’t think it takes much to be a CPA” in his article why the average CPA isn't worth the money on PFMoney blog.  

I hold a CPA license and have to say passing the certified public accountant exam was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Back when I took it, it was a 16-hour exam covering business law, auditing, financial accounting and tax. In order to pass, I needed a strong knowledge in all four areas since you never knew what specific scenario or obscure topic they would test on.

Passing the exam was one of the best things I’ve done for my career. It opened doors that never would have been available to me without it, increased my annual salary $10,000 the first year I became certified and boosted the amount of respect I receive from colleagues and business associates. I still notice a distinct change in attitude when I hand a vendor, banker or auditor my business card and they read the CPA designation listed after my name.

Campbell goes on to say:
Like in any profession, I’m sure there are some really good ones out there but I think it’s a myth that only a CPA can do a great job. That doesn’t mean the average person is smarter than a CPA but if you can read and you have an interest in taxes you can do just as well as the average CPA.

The reason why I feel so strongly is that this year I actually met with two different CPA’s in person. Both were very highly rated by online reviews and I ended up explaining depreciation recapture tax to the first one and arguing with the second one about the passive loss exclusion. The only reason why I knew more than both these CPA’s was because I had just read NOLO'S Landlord's Guide. It wasn’t because I’m a genius, I just spent the time reading up on landlord deductions and clearly these guys weren’t specialists in real estate taxation.
I have never prepared taxes professionally nor do I ever intend too. My eyes glazed over when I read the words depreciation recapture tax and passive loss exclusion in Campbell’s example. I attend several tax-updates each year as part of my CPE requirements, but these classes are designed to keep me informed of tax law changes affecting my industry, company or personal life, not to become a tax expert - my company has an outside accounting firm for that. I can handle cocktail party tax questions, but anything more complicated I can't answer. (I was once asked how much of a capital gain someone would have if they were to sell their printing business.)

Many of the CPA’s I know do not work in tax or even for an accounting firm. Less than 15% of the members in my professional organization prepare taxes professionally. I am confident that those who do would be able to answer Campbell’s questions accurately and with enthusiasm. If they could not, I’m sure they would know where to find the answers.

He closes with:
I got the feeling from both of these CPA’s that they were going to just take my information and hand it to a secretary to enter into their tax software. I don’t need to pay $500 for that and neither do you. My advice is to do it yourself or hire a specialist and take an active role in your taxes.
Should Harry hire a CPA?
The tax-preparers I know who work for larger firms do have interns or assistants who enter client information into tax software, but an actual CPA always reviews and signs the return. Also, they specialize - some work with small businesses, others with not-for-profits or medical professionals. I would suggest Harry call some of the rental property owners in his area and ask for recommendations. One of my co-workers owns rental properties, his wife is a CPA working in industry and he tells me she spends days working on their taxes. Someone that specializes in rental property returns would be more knowledgeable about best-practices, but if Harry feels comfortable preparing his own tax return he can certainly do that too.

Here are some other considerations:

If your tax-prepared deductions seem too good to be true perhaps they are: 
Two salesmen at my company living in two different states are currently undergoing IRS audits for their 2010 returns. Both used an outside accountant to prepare their return. Both audits disallowed their business expense deductions. One received a bill in excess of $10,000. I’m not sure what he could have claimed for $10,000 because he receives a car-allowance, reimbursement for his gas, his entertainment expenses and mileage in excess of 35,000 from our company. 

Not all tax-preparers are CPA’s or have the same training:
H&R Block has an in-house training program. When one of the CPA tax preparers from my professional organization was looking for an assistant at her law firm, she indicated she wanted someone with prior tax experience and working at H&R Block did not qualify as prior experience.

Also, not all accountants who prepare tax returns are CPA’s. If having a CPA prepare your return is important to you make sure you ask if they are licensed.

If utilizing a CPA, be organized:
The CPAs I know charge clients more if they are not organized. One has a client who drops off shoe boxes filled with receipts each year. It takes her at least eight hours to organize all the papers and receipts in these boxes. She charges him for every minute of her time.

Be careful with the home-office deduction:
The home office deduction is the most frequently audited item on a tax return. The rules are very specific about how this space is used. It must be used exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business. My boss, who prepares tax-returns on the side, refuses to use this deduction on his client’s returns.

There is a new simplified option for the home office deduction:
Starting in 2013, you can deduct a simplified safe harbor amount of $5 per square foot up to a maximum of $1,500 (300 square feet). This means you can itemize your full mortgage interest and real estate interest on Schedule A of your personal tax return rather than apportioning between Schedule A and business schedules C or F. In some parts of the country this simplified option may be as much as if you claimed actual home office expenses. If you live in a high expense area this simplified method will probably amount to just a fraction of your actual expenses.

Your tax-preparation fee may be listed as a deduction, but it may not actually be reducing your taxes:
I had a co-worker who didn’t mind paying someone to prepare her taxes because his fee was deducted as an itemized expense on her return. When I reviewed her return for her, the tax preparation fee was indeed listed as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, but the total miscellaneous deductions in excess of 2% of adjusted gross income was zero - meaning her tax preparation fee was not actually reducing her taxes.

The same can be said for medical expenses:
I currently have a co-worker who hires H&R Block to complete her taxes because they itemize her medical and dental expenses for her; something she doesn’t like doing. I told her to make sure she is actually receiving a deduction. In the past, you needed out-of-pocket expenses in excess of 7.5% of adjusted gross income. In 2013, that percentage has been increased to 10%. If you or your spouse is 65 or older the 10% increase does not go into effect until 2017.

Should You Hire a CPA To Do Your Taxes?
If you have a fairly uncomplicated tax return, nothing new or out of the ordinary occurred during the tax year and you are familiar with the various tax reporting forms you probably do not need to hire a CPA. For the past three years, I’ve used TurboTax answering all of their questions to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I was finished in less than two hours. If you do the same, you probably don't need to hire an accountant to do your taxes. If you have your own business you may want to hire a CPA - at least for the first year.

Do you prepare your own taxes?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and Stapler Confessions*

Sunday, March 16, 2014

48 Days To The Work You Love

What is Dan Miller's book 48 Days To The Work You Loveabout?
Dan Miller, a life coach, has written a book not about finding a new job, but about discovering what you are going to “be.” According to Miller, failing to make that fundamental discovery is why so many people find themselves in jobs they hate. His book is to help lead you to the vocation you will love.

Motivation for reading:
This book has been included on several must-read career book lists, but it wasn’t until Sarah Ingle mentioned it in her post things I wish I'd been told in college that I decided to read this book. She wrote:
I wish someone had made me read 48 Days To The Work You Love.  I know I talk about this book all the time, but it was the first thing I ever read that actually helped point me in a direction. I think every college freshman or sophomore should be REQUIRED to read something like this before they waste thousands of dollars on classes that are useless and have no direction. 
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed I’ve been feeling trapped in my career as an accounting manager for some time now. I’ve worked in accounting for 25 years and would like to do something more fulfilling in the next stage of my life. I was hoping this book would provide some insight.

My thoughts:
This book is not a step-by-step how-to-guide to finding a new career in 48 days; instead it is a book filled with anecdotes and stories from Miller’s coaching practice, the bible and quotations from other books. Each chapter does end with a list of questions designed to get you thinking about your own life and its purpose. Overall, I thought the book was a bit repetitive. I would have preferred a more logically organized step-by-step book, but reading it was not an entire waste I came away with several invaluable insights. Here is a sampling:

Not only know yourself, but know what is changeless about you:
The power of knowing yourself acts as a compass through change. Popular writer Steven Covey says the only way we can handle change is to know what is changeless about ourselves. You need that changeless core, knowing how God has uniquely gifted you and what you value. With that knowledge you can forge through change with clear direction and unshakeable purpose. (Pg. 31)

On having action plans and setting goals:
A plan of action will separate you from 97% of the people you meet. Everyone has dreams, but very few ever turn those into goals. The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is a dream with a timeframe of action attached. (Pg. 48)

Only 8% of the general population can identify goals and only about 3% ever actually write them down. (Pg. 56)

Goals are not written in concrete terms but certainly give you a starting point and a destination. The important thing is you are working on your goals; your life has meaning only when you are working towards goals through with your achieve meaning. After all, success is the progressive realization of worthwhile goals. (Pg. 57)

Indecision is the greatest thief of opportunity:
A recent Harvard Business School Study asked, “What are the top characteristics of high achievers?” At the very top of the list, one characteristic stood out: speed of implementation – having the ability to act quickly. Eighty percent of decisions should be made immediately. (Pg. 55)

When confronted with a decision Dan and his wife allow a 2-week maximum for arriving at a decision. Here is their approach to the process:

1. State the problem
2. Get the advice and opinions of others
3. List alternatives
4. Choose the best alternative
5. Act

Look for what you love first:
Looking for the best opportunities in career and jobs often leads to disillusionment and frustration. Look for what you love first. Then you will have the confidence and enthusiasm to find success in places others overlook. (Pg. 188)

I enjoyed the chapter on entrepreneurship. It contained one of the best “Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur questionnaire” I’ve seen. It is extensive – at 18 questions and does not include your typical are you a risk taker type question.

The chapter on interviewing pointed out how important it is to appear energetic and enthusiastic during the interview process.

Bottom line:
I may not have determined what my next career will be, but I did gain valuable insights from reading this book. I recommend it to anyone just starting out or searching for a new vocation with this caveat - Miller writes this book from a Christian point of view. If this will bother you, you may want to skip this book.

What is the best career book you’ve ever read?

Sunday, March 09, 2014

What Are You Reading for Women’s History Month?

For the past few years in honor of Women's History Month, I’ve been reading a book covering women’s history or a biography of a famous woman during March. Last year I read Robert Massie's book Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. In my review I noted that Robert Massie had written Elizabeth I of England used virginity and abstinence as prizes to tempt and manipulate powerful men. This was in contrast to Catherine the Great who had numerous lovers during her rein. I then suggested a biography on Elizabeth I would make an excellent companion read to Massie’s book.

As a result, I am choosing Alison Weir’s book The Life of Elizabeth Ias my read this year for women’s history month:


I discovered this book on Deb of Urban Moo-Cow’s list of her top ten non-fiction reads. She wrote:
I am an unabashed Anglophile. I have read so many books about Tudor-era England, both fiction and non-fiction, it is almost embarrassing. But Weir is special: an amazing writer and historian. You feel like you are reading a story, not a history book, yet every word is meticulously researched.

 Since this book is 488 pages long, I’ve decided not to select it for The Savvy Reader Book Club - book club selections are supposed to be 300 pages or less. Instead of selecting a book this month:

I am challenging you to read one book of your own choosing for Women’s History Month

If you need ideas here are a few books I recommend from my book archives:

This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer by Kay Mills:
In addition to being an excellent choice for Women’s History Month, this book provides a study of the civil rights movement, the history, culture and politics of Mississippi, and the economic programs and human rights Fannie Lou fought so tirelessly for.

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins:
This is a well-researched comprehensive history of what has happened in every realm of women’s lives from 1960 to the present including Hillary Clinton’s historic presidential campaign.

Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life by Justine Picardie:
An informative biography of the famous fashion designer Coco Chanel. This is a rags-to-riches tale describing how Chanel made herself into a style legend and what she had to hide along the way in order to ascend to the top.

In the Name of Honor: A Memoir by Mukhtar Mai:
This is the story of Muktar Mai, a poor, uneducated peasant woman from the small village of Meerwala, Pakistan. Her life is turned upside down when she is gang-raped on the order of a council of elders as punishment for her brother’s alleged affair with a woman of a higher clan. Instead of committing suicide which is the cultural norm she decides to fight for justice.

Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan:
This book is a fictional account of the real life story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s affair with one of his clients, Mamah Borthwick Cheney in the early 1900’s. Mamah who lived life on her own terms provides a glimpse into what life was like for a woman who leaves her husband and children for another man prior to the women’s movement.

Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymeah Gbowee:
Leymah won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for helping to lead the women's protests that toppled Liberia's dictator. This book is her courageous story.

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser:
This book along with Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution are both excellent biographies of Marie Antoinette’s life.

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan:
This is Betty Friedan’s classic book that ignited the feminist movement. It can be a bit dry and repetitive at times, but is still a worthwhile read.

My Life in France by Julia Child:
This book which is based on the letters Julia Child and her husband Paul wrote to family and friends while living in Europe is a delightful read about a woman discovering her passion later in life.

For more book recommendations see these book lists from around the web:

Books and Bassets provides an interesting list.

The Book Wheel's 30 Inspiring Books For Women, By Women - I can't you believe I've only finished four of these.

The Invisible Mentor shares a list of classic books written by women. She is celebrating the month by reading 7 or 8.

What are you reading for women’s history month?

Monday, March 03, 2014

First Darling of the Morning by Thrity Umrigar

In February, The Savvy Reader Book Club read Thrify Umrigar’s book First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian after Tanya of Mom's Small Victories recommended it. I had recently joined the Around the World in 80 Countries Reading Challenge after learning of it on Tanya’s blog. The premise of this challenge is to read 80 books that take place in other countries to get a better understanding of that country and culture. Thrifty Umrigar’s memoir covers her childhood growing up in Bombay India.

What is this book about?
Thrifty Umrigar is the author of the acclaimed novels Bombay Time, The Space Between Us, and If Today Be Sweet. She grew up in a middle class Parsi family in Bombay (now Mumbai) India. In her coming of age memoir she examines her childhood, exploring what things and people helped contribute to her becoming a writer. In doing so she honors the people who raised her. She lived in a joint household that included her parents, an aunt, an uncle and his wife and her cousin. She opens her life up to us with brutal honesty sharing the pain and embarrassment of living with an abusive mother, her writing influences, her teenage rebellion and finally her decision to leave Bombay to finish her education in America. All of this takes place against the backdrop of Bombay in the 1960’s and 70’s.

My thoughts:
It is easy to see why Thrifty Umrigar’s novels are so popular; she is a talented and gifted writer. I particularly enjoyed learning of her early writing influences:

Thrifty attends a private catholic school. Her 4th grade composition teacher turns her writing world upside down when she tells the class, “For once in your life do not make your characters blond and blue eyed. And for heaven’s sake give them real names, that is, Indian names, not names like Mr. Jones and Mr. Henderson. Thrifty and her classmates grew up reading Enid Blyton books. Thrifty had lived so intensely in the fictional world of small-town England that she knew more about this world than the hot crowded, equatorial city of dark haired men and women that she dwelled in. Her teacher’s question helps her realize:
Writing is - can be – a complicated and important thing. And that it is tied to other things, things like culture and nationality and history and where you live. This is a brand new thought that all writing is not the same and that where you live can define who you are and so change the way you write. I am both excited and confused by how a simple request to change the physical descriptions of our characters is taking me down a new path, making me think about these things that I have never thought about before.  

And in a flash I understand something new: that just as reading and writing are linked, so are questions and answers. You have to know how to phrase a question to get the right answer. (Pg. 88)
From a conversation she overhears about the song The Boxer:
I can’t get over this song even though I’ve heard it a million times. Just listen to the lyrics. They’re like a poem. I tell you, this is the song by which the ‘sixties will be remembered.’

I have no idea what they’re talking about. But the hair on my arm stands up and I am filled with a rush of excitement. Where I come from, nobody ever talks this way about music. Where I come from a song, is something to be whistled along with and music is an impractical luxury, like flowers and art and museums. Nobody I know has ever asked me to listen to the words of a song. (Pg. 110)
Other early writing influences are Demian and Steppenwolf written by Hermann Hesse and Irving Stone's Lust for Life:
I read Van Gogh’s biography in two days and learn more about the mysteries of my own life than about his. All the things that have never made sense to me before - why I never felt comfortable when I was with the ‘in” crowd, why I always stuck up for the underdog, why I don’t lust after the things that make most of my friends happy, why the evening sky has made me feel melancholy and lonely for as long as I can remember, why certain songs have a heart-tearing effect on me. All of these suddenly become clearer.

I have been a misfit for a long time. Now I have a companion in a crazy Dutch painter who was dead long before I was born. (Pg. 119)
Thrifty reminds me so much of myself. I think we are the same age. We both grew up feeling trapped in an unhappy household and we both escaped into the world of books. We both eventually end up leaving home never to return; me from my family's farm in rural Wisconsin and her from her home in Bombay.

Thrifty, exhausted from trying to keep the peace at home decides to go to college in America. Here she writes about her decision:
America. A way out. If I am to get away from my dead-end life, I will have to find my way to America, land of self-invention. This is the only place I know where one can start anew. As long as I am unmarried, I know that economics and social convention will dictate that I live at home.
All the things I thought would save me – music, books, politics – have befriended me for a while but ultimately I’ve had to come back and face myself. After years of looking forward to a job and independence it would give me. I’m facing up to the facts: I do not feel prepared to enter the work world and as long as I’m living at home, I will never be truly free. I will never find out who I am with all these people around me. (Pg. 260)
She decides to move to America and not to another city in India because:
After all Bombay is the glittering jewel in India’s crown. Bombay is the place where the rest of India migrates toward. To leave the city and settle in one of the lesser places would be a slap in my father’s face. As repudiation of the life I have here. (Pg. 261)
The book ends with Thrity’s plane leaving for America. For me, this ending feels abrupt. I have so many questions; how did Thrifty pay for her education once she got to Ohio State, did her new life in America meet her expectations and how did it compare to life in India. Fortunately, I was able to find the answer to some of these questions in a radio interview on blogtalkradio.

Thrifty had read so many books set in America prior to her arrival that her expectations pretty much matched reality. She never assumed our streets were paved in gold. Her first two years here were the happiest of her life. When she arrived she hadn't known anyone and had led such a sheltered life in Bombay – she had never even gone grocery shopping before. She was continuously amazed by the acts of kindness and generosity she received from strangers who help her find her way.

As to class differences – America prides itself on being a classless society, but there are class differences here, they are just more hidden. There is also poverty in America. You don’t see it because you don’t venture into those neighborhoods. India has substantially more poor people and you don’t have the option of looking away; the poor are everywhere. She left India in the early eighties, unfortunately based on her observations India’s poverty problem has not improved since then.

Bottom line:
This book was a good selection for my Around the World in 80 Countries Nonfiction Reading Challenge.  I recommend it to anyone who would like to learn more about Thrity Umrigar, enjoys reading author memoirs or likes a good coming of age story.

Have you read Thrity Umrigar’s book First Darling of the Morning? If so what were your thoughts?  

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Other reviews:
Me, You and Books
Mom's Small Victories